the next moment she plunged down into the flames.

February 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Regular readers may detect in me a love affair of sorts with fine prose about fire. I confess, it is quite true:

It was late winter; the large heavy cover of snow, the result of a whole week’s uninterrupted blowing, was in the process of rapidly melting away. The air was full of sunlight and reflection from the white snow, which in large, shining drops dripped down past the windows. Within the room all forms and colors had awakened, all lines and contours had come to life. Whatever was flat extended, whatever was bent curved, whatever was inclined slid, and whatever was broken refracted the more. All kinds of green tones mingled on the flower-table, from the softest dark-green to the sharpest yellow-green. Reddish brown tones flooded in flames across the surface of the mahogany table, and gold gleamed and sparkled from the knick-knacks, from the frames and moldings, but on the carpet all the colors broke and mingled in a joyous shimmering confusion.

[. . .]

Mogens forced his way through the multitude. Now he was at the corner; the sparks were slowly falling down upon him. Up the street; there were showers of sparks, the window-panes on both sides were aglow, the factory was burning, the councilor’s house was burning and the house next door also. There was nothing but smoke, fire and confusion, cries, curses, tiles that rattled down, blows of axes, wood that splintered, window-panes that jingled, jets of water that hissed, spluttered, and splashed, and amid all this the regular dull sob-like throb of the engines. Furniture, bedding, black helmets, ladders, shining buttons, illuminated faces, wheels, ropes, tarpaulin, strange instruments; Mogens rushed into their midst, over, under it all, forward to the house.

The facade was brightly illuminated by the flames from the burning factor, smoke issued from between the tiles of the roof and rolled out of the open windows of the first story. Within the fire rumbled and crackled. There was a slow groaning sound, that turned into a rolling and crashing, and ended in a dull boom. Smoke, sparks, and flames issued in torment out of all the openings of the house. And then the flames began to play and crackle with redoubled strength and redoubled clearness. It was the middle part of the ceiling of the first floor that fell. Mogens with both hands seized a large scaling-ladder which leaned against the part of the factory which was not yet in flames. For a moment he held it vertically, but then it slipped away from him and fell over toward the councilor’s house where it broke in a window-frame on the second story. Mogens ran up the ladder, and in through the opening. At first he had to close his eyes on account of the pungent wood-smoke, and the heavy suffocating fumes which rose from the charred wood that the water had reached took his breath away. He was in the dining-room. The part of the house, now and then, almost reached up to the ceiling; the few boards that had remained hanging when the floor fell burned in brilliant yellowish-white flames; shadows and the gleam of flames flooded over the walls; the wall-paper here and there curled up, caught fire, and flew in flaming tatters down into the abyss; eager yellow flames licked their way up on the loosened moldings and picture-frames. Mogens crept over the ruins and fragments of the fallen wall towards the edge of the abyss, from which cold and host blasts of air alternately struck his face; on the other side so much of the wall had fallen, that he could look into Camilla’s room, while the part that hid the councilor’s office still stood. It grew hotter and hotter; the skin of his face became taut, and he noticed, that his hair was crinkling. Something heavy glided past his shoulder and remained lying on his back and pressed him down to the floor; it was the girder which slowly had slipped out of place. He could not move, breathing became more and more difficult, his temples throbbed violently; to his left a jet of water splashed against the wall of the dining-room, and the wish rose in him, that the cold, cold drops, which scattered in all directions might fall on him. Then he heard a moan on the other side of the abyss, and he saw something white stir on the floor in Camilla’s room. It was she. She lay on her knees, and while her hips were swaying, held her hands pressed against each side of her head. She rose slowly, and came towards the edge of the abyss. She stood straight upright, her arms hung limply down, and the head went to and fro limply on the neck. Very, very slowly the upper part of her body fell forward, her long, beautiful hair swept the floor; a short violent flash of flame, and it was gone, the next moment she plunged down into the flames.

— Jens Peter Jacobsen, “Mogens” in Mogens and Other Stories (1882) [trans. Anna Grabow (1921)]

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